By Zach Lazzari
Elk season is coming and it’s time to hone in calling techniques while strategizing for the hunts ahead. Here at Table Mountain Outfitters, we have the benefit of hunting unpressured elk that can respond to a variety of calling strategies during archery and even rifle season. For our hunters and guides, it can be a thrilling experience!
If you’re hunting with us this year, we look forward to seeing you! Our guides will be the primary callers, putting you in position to make a shot. In most elk hunting situations, the shooter does not do any calling. Instead, the caller (in this case, your guide) draws the attention of the elk, freeing up the shooter to draw their bow and make a shot.
But no matter where you’re hunting this year, we though it might be interesting to outline some fundamental elk calling strategies. Whether you’re hunting with us in Wyoming this year or elsewhere, here’s a brief look at what you can expect:
Adapt to the Situation
Every elk hunter has a different approach to calling and some insist on doing things a certain way every time. If the formula works, go ahead and press forward. However, approaching calling with some flexibility can really increase the odds of success. Elk respond differently during various phases of the rut and reading the situation can factor into success.
For example, challenge calls will often elicit a vocal response late in the rut. However, just because a bull responds, that doesn’t mean he will move within range. Talking is fun, but it doesn’t make sense if the bulls won’t budge. Dropping the bugle and focusing on cow calls might get a bull to move in this scenario.
Having a wide range of tones and calling abilities will make you more effective in the field. What’s more, elk don’t always read the script the way we plan it. Whenever you’re hunting elk – and especially in calling situations – expect the unexpected. Stay flexible and patient.
Bugling in high-pressure areas is not always effective but you still need to find elk. Table Mountain hunters have the luxury of avoiding pressure but locator calls remain relevant. A locator is generally a single bugle made in an attempt to generate a response. It’s not about having a conversation or calling a bull into range but more about figuring out where that bull is living.
Use locator calls in the early mornings, evenings and even at night, and use them sparingly. Call once, wait and listen. When you get that response, note the location and make a plan to get closer. Locator calls can quickly narrow down an area and help you focus on specific terrain.
Once a bull is located, a challenge bugle can be a highly effective calling technique. It can be effective during the immediate pre-rut and early rut phase when bulls are searching for cows and competing for territory. However, it’s best used when in very close proximity to a worked up bull – close enough to make him feel threatened by the challenger. If a challenge is issued at too great a distance, the bull might just round up his cows and leave.
In these situations it’s best to locate a bull first, either by glassing or listening. With a known location, hunters can get as close as possible with the wind in their favor, ideally within a hundred yards. With the gap closed, give a few soft cow calls, trying to elicit a bugle. When he does, belt out a challenge in response. This can be done in combination with raking and breaking branches. If the bull is motivated, be ready. He may come charging in hard.
Even if he doesn’t respond vocally, be ready. He may come in silently to inspect the intruder. This is especially important for the shooter. While your guide is calling, stay patient and don’t move. Unless your guide tells you to get up and move, stay put. It might seem like an eternity. But in these situations, a cool head and patience often pays off.
Calling elk plays on their instinct to fight or breed and cow calls appeal to that breeding instinct. If a bull has cows, he may not respond to bugles as readily. In these situations, he already has a harem and fighting might not be in his best interests. However, adding a few more cows to the mix might be enticing. Cow calls could help to close the deal.
Just like a challenge bugle, it helps to be as close as possible. A bull with a harem will be hesitant to leave them and go very far. Using the wind, get as close as you can. Just remember that it’s not only the bull’s eyes and nose that you have to fool. Those cows will be on full alert.
If the elk are bugling and making noise, consider going dead silent. Find a glassing location and get eyes on them to strategize a stalk. A silent approach is especially effective when they become call-shy or when a herd bull doesn’t want to leave his harem. It still pays to have a cow call ready during the stalk. You may need it to pull that bull away from his group of cows. Regardless, if you have the elk pinned down, get as close as possible before making a peep.
Guided Elk Hunts with Table Mountain Outfitters
Here at Table Mountain Outfitters, we enjoy elk hunting on spectacular private lands where free-range herds of elk are unpressured. We have the exclusive lease on these properties, where we can carefully limit harvest. Our hunters and guides enjoy an incredible elk hunting experience! Both our bow and rifle hunters typically experience 100% opportunity.